Warrants outline evidence against former Rock Hill educator Pearson

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comApril 15, 2013 

At least 13 images of child pornography were sent to a cellphone belonging to Darin Pearson, former assistant principal at Rock Hill’s Sullivan Middle School, by a homeless man in Tennessee, according to court documents obtained by The Herald on Monday.

When Metro Nashville Police arrested Earl W. Arnold, 34, in February, they found evidence that the images had been sent to Pearson’s Charlotte mobile phone number, according to a search warrant Charlotte Police executed when confiscating electronics from Pearson’s Picasso Court apartment last month.

They also found an exchange of text messages from Pearson’s phone in which the sender claimed to be a school principal who sexually assaulted a seventh-grade girl in his office, according to the documents. In the messages, the sender said he wanted to sexually assault other students.

Rock Hill Police spoke with three students specifically named in those messages. The students said Pearson had not inappropriately touched or communicated with them, according to a Rock Hill Police report released Monday.

Rock Hill Police also said that, after seizing two computers and an iPod from Pearson’s office at Sullivan Middle School, they did not find any images of child pornography.

“The district is still disappointed in the behavior of Mr. Pearson, but pleased that the police did not find any photos or indications of misconduct on his district-issued equipment,” Rock Hill schools spokeswoman Elaine Baker wrote in an email Monday afternoon.

Pearson faces three counts of sexual exploitation of a minor as the result of a pending Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police investigation.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police and the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation last month arrested Pearson after receiving a tip from the Metro Nashville Police Department that he might be involved in trading child pornography.

Police in Nashville found Pearson’s name among a list of contacts in a homeless man’s cellphone after the Nashville man was accused of recording pictures of school children outside a school playground.

The man, Earl W. Arnold, 34, allowed detectives to look through his iPhone, where they found child pornography, according to court documents. He was charged with two counts of sexual exploitation of a minor.

Detectives further examined Arnold’s phone and found that pornographic images of children had been sent to and traded with other people, an arrest affidavit reads.

“Pearson’s name was developed as a result of the phone analysis,” Nashville Police said.

According to court documents detailing reasons for searching Pearson’s townhome, Nashville detectives found an iMessage thread between Arnold and someone using a Charlotte mobile number, dated between January and February this year. iMessage is an instant messaging application available on Apple products, including iPods, iPads and iPhones.

In those messages, Arnold and the cellphone user discussed having sex with minors and exchanged sexual videos and images, the documents show.

Arnold, the documents read, sent the cellphone user pictures of pre-pubescent children engaged in sex acts. The mobile phone user sent back pictures of himself engaging in sex acts, and commented on the photos Arnold sent him, saying he liked them and commenting that they reminded him of “children at his school.”

The cellphone user named two girls, one of them supposedly in the seventh grade, and then sent Arnold a picture of a young girl’s face, along with a lewd caption.

He said he engaged in sexual acts with a seventh-grade girl while disciplining her in his office, according to the documents. The cellphone user said he also sexually abused another girl, whose phone number he gave to Arnold and suggested that Arnold “groom” her.

Arnold and the cellphone user discussed Arnold kidnapping the girl and forcing her into marriage, according to the warrants.

During the messages to Arnold, the user said he was a principal at a school. He sent images to Arnold of children in a school library, the warrants state.

Detectives also found about 13 images of child pornography on Arnold’s phone that he had sent to the Charlotte mobile user. The user sent back videos of an adult male committing a sex act that police wrote in the warrant they believe is Pearson.

Police discovered that AT&T was the cellphone’s provider and subpoenaed the subscriber’s phone records, according to the documents. They found that the phone number was registered to Darin Pearson.

Detectives used North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicle records to confirm Pearson’s address after finding pictures of Sullivan Middle School’s library on the school’s Facebook page and comparing them to pictures the cellphone user sent to Arnold.

The detective wrote in the warrant that some furniture in the pictures was similar.

Officials executed the search warrant at Pearson’s apartment and car on March 15, seizing more than 15 electronic items, including four laptops, two iPads, two thumb drives, a hard drive and two cellphones. Some of that property also belonged to another man who lived at the apartment.

That man hasn’t been charged, according to Mecklenburg County jail records. He couldn’t be reached Monday.

Police found several movies depicting children engaging in sexual acts at Pearson’s apartment, according to CMPD arrest warrants. He was arrested, but released from jail the next day on bond.

Efforts to reach Pearson have been unsuccessful. His lawyer, S. Frederick Winiker III of the Winiker law firm, has declined to comment on the case and couldn’t be reached on Monday. Members of Pearson’s family have declined to comment.

Police in Charlotte asked the Rock Hill Police Department to help with the investigation by confiscating Pearson’s electronics from his office at Sullivan Middle School on March 18, according to a Rock Hill Police arrest warrant.

After reporting no findings on Pearson’s school-issued electronics, Rock Hill Police have closed their local investigation into Pearson, who resigned last month as Sullivan Middle School’s sixth-grade assistant principal.

Donna Price, the assistant district attorney in Charlotte prosecuting Pearson, said she was unable to discuss the facts of the case. She did say that an indictment on felony charges will be sought in Superior Court, which handles North Carolina’s felony criminal charges.

He won’t appear before a judge for several months, she said.